Some California travelers can’t buy medical marijuana in Hawaii. Here’s why

Medical marijuana is legal in Hawaii, but Californians coming to the islands who have a California card for cannabis must apply and be approved before they can obtain marijuana from dispensaries such as Noa Botanicals in Kaneohe on windward Oahu.

Planning to buy medical marijuana in Hawaii? Better have your paperwork in order. That appears to be a stumbling block for many Californians, according to the Hawaii Department of Health.

“California seems to be the one state that we are seeing a lot of problems with,” said Tami Whitney, the coordinator of the Medical Cannabis Registry Program for the Hawaii Department of Heatlh.

Hawaii has allowed visitors to buy medical cannabis since March 5 if they comply with state regulations.

But more than three-quarters of California applicants have not received their temporary medical cannabis cards from the Hawaii Department of Health. Of the 252 applications received by July 1, 45 were rejected and 149 others are pending.


The common denominator: Applicants fail to provide their California medical marijuana card, which they must scan and submit, along with their state photo ID.

“A lot of them are only submitting … their physicians’ certifications,” Whitney said. But by law, they must submit their California state medical cannabis card, Whitney said.

Whitney urges visitors to comply with Hawaii law so “they can be symptom-free or pain-free while they’re on vacation.”

A sample of the “329" card Hawaii health officials issue to medical cannabis users displays the 60-day period for which cards are valid for visitors from out of state.
(Hawaii Department of Health)

The Hawaii Educational Alliance of Licensed Therapeutic Healthcare, or HEALTH, the trade organization for the state’s 10 dispensaries, shares her concerns.

“We’re trying to let California patients know [what the law is] because what we don’t want is for them to have to skip a dose or get here thinking that their [doctors’] letters will be good enough and then being stuck,” said Pedro Haro, the organization’s executive director.

Obtaining medical cannabis also comes at a price.

California counties set their own fees for medical cards. By state law, that is not to exceed $100. Los Angeles County, for instance, charges the maximum for applicants not receiving government benefits.

On top of the $100 for a California card, travelers will also pay $49.50 to apply for a Hawaii visitor’s card. They can apply as much as 60 days in advance of their trip and designate a start date. The card is then valid for 60 days.

Californians planning travel to other states that allow medical marijuana — there are 33 in all — face a confusing cluster of laws.

“Unfortunately, this is very much a patchwork,” said Jonathan Havens, who practices cannabis law for Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr.

Arizona is an example of the tangle of laws.

“State law allows a visiting qualifying patient with a registry identification card or its equivalent, issued by the qualifying patient’s home state, to possess or use marijuana,” an FAQ on the Arizona Department of Health Services Medical Marijuana website says. “However, a visiting patient is not authorized to obtain marijuana from a dispensary because the dispensary is required in statute to access a verification system before dispensing marijuana.” Arizona’s verification system does not include patients in other states.

That presents a quandary for visitors, Havens said.

“Are they telling you that you should travel across state lines with medical cannabis, which I assume they know is a federally illegal movement?” he asked.

Although some states have decriminalized marijuana, its possession and use are illegal under federal law. Transporting cannabis from California to Arizona — whether by air, car or train — is illegal.

“I think the rule of thumb is ‘Know before you go,’” Havens said. He suggested doing a web search for the “health department” or “cannabis control commission” in the state to which a patient will be traveling. If that does not provide the necessary information, he urged travelers to call the appropriate agency.

“Go directly to the source,” he said. “There’s a lot of information on the internet, but not all of it [is] accurate.

“When you’re dealing with a product that’s federally illegal, you can’t leave this to chance.”